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Building Trouble Shooting

Article two
Business Day: 18 March 2005

Peter Allsopp MD of Baobab Consultants, building trouble shooters, told us last week how people get caught into a the trap of the "Builders Quote" by not having proper contract and specification documents when building a new home or undertaking alterations and additions. This week he talks about another major pitfall, Building Plans.

So you're having the visit by Mr Suntan the builder. He is busy in your area and by all accounts seams to be a good guy. He has come to give you a quote for that renovation of your home you have been dreaming about ever since you saw that housing magazine-job the neighbours had.

As you walk through the house you tell the builder that you want to knock this wall and this door out and make the kitchen larger, change the small windows to sliding doors, even add on that Tuscan-style patio you saw on the front page of Garden and Castle. You show him clippings from years of collections of materials from building expos. Can he do the work?

"Yes sure", the quote comes three days later and not a bad price at all. When can he start?

"Next week"
Oh so soon, what about plans do we need them?

"Nah! Such a small job as this doesn't need plans, I've drafted up this quick sketch and you can see what I'll do for you".

"OK let's go".

Building is progressing well but you notice that the shower in the bathroom is not where you wanted it and the patio was narrower than you thought. You are sure you said the patio must go out to the line of the rose bed. Not so sure, you ask the builder, on one of his infrequent trips to site to pay his worker's wages, why the patio is so narrow.

"That's what I quoted for" he says, do you want it bigger, no problem but I'll have to break down the foundation wall and extend, it will cost you R8000."

No that can't be you think, let's have a look on the plan. The plan however is not to scale, "See I've built it just like the plan", he says "you can't change it now!"

But we said it should be to the rose bed.

"I'm sorry missus, not my problem, and you can't fit a shower in that bathroom either, it's too small."

Another thing, you say that toilet set is awfully cheap, we didn't want plastic cisterns we thought we would get the same as in the existing bathrooms.

At this Mr Suntan laughs in your face. "You must be joking! How do you expect me to give you such a cheap price if you want me to price for that larney stuff?"

WHAT, remember all those brochures and pamphlets we showed you, what about them?

"It's not in my quote nor on the drawing missus, that will be extra. If you don't like it I'll leave the site today"

Yes but what about the 75% you've already been paid,

Sorry Missus that's gone already!

Sound familiar, know someone who has told you that over supper, or have you been too embarrassed to admit it yourself.

At Baobab Consultants we see this every week.
How to prevent it happening to you?

Firstly understand that ANY structural improvement to land must be approved by the Local Authority by means of an approved plan. Most people know that they need plan approval for both Planning consent and Building Regulation Approval when building a new home. Most, not all. We have been involved in several cases in the last few months where even semi-detached flatlets have been constructed without approval, "because we are out here in the country and we don't do plans!"

Not everyone knows however that structural improvement includes knocking out a wall or increasing the size of a window opening on an existing residence. You do not even have to be increasing the size of the building.

Do not let builders con you into thinking that small works need no planning approval, they are very often just trying to get on with the job as soon as possible and to get your "deposit" out of you.

We have been involved in a dispute where a whole additional floor has been added by a well known company with nothing but a simple line diagram. When the Owner realised the plans had not been drawn and submitted (as part of the contract) he refused to make the final payment. The Builder responded by informing the Council of the illegal building (his own) and now the owner is in deep trouble with the Authorities.

The National Building Regulation Act makes the OWNER responsible for plan approval, not the builder.

So whatever you do, employ the services of a professional to draw up your plans (not an unqualified draftsman) and to form a proper specification of work and materials BEFORE you look for prices from builders. This way you know what the builder has and hasn't priced for and so mitigate many of these types of disputes.

Even better, get the professional to project manage the whole process for you so that you have a proper contract and only pay for work as it progresses.

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